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Thai King's Support Boosts Military-Appointed Government

Thailand's revered king, in his annual address, called on Thais to support the interim government. As Ron Corben reports from VOA's Bangkok bureau, analysts say the speech will boost the struggling administration that came to power through a military coup in September.

One day after King Bhumipol Adulyadej delivered his annual birthday address, his words are being interpreted as throwing his considerable moral weight behind the government of interim Prime Minister Surayud Chalunont.

The king on Monday night praised the country's post-coup government as wise and experienced and he called Mr. Surayud a strong "man of principle." He says he was sure the country would run smoothly until next year when the prime minister will be relieved of his burden - referring to promises made by the military-backed government to restore democratic rule.

The king called on his people to "use their physical and mental strength to save the country from perils".

King Bhumipol says it should not be left to the government alone since the government was "not all that powerful".

In recent years, the king's speech had offered criticism of the twice-elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed on September 19th. By contrast, this year's speech focused on praise for his replacement.

Mr. Thaksin's political troubles had paralyzed Thailand's government since the beginning of 2006. He was criticized for alleged corruption, nepotism, and arrogant leadership and mishandling the violence in the mainly-Muslim south.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the speech sends a strong message, particularly to rural areas.

"The Royal speech will go down in the rural heartland as supportive of the cabinet, so the villagers will see this as the King's endorsement, the King's support for the Cabinet," said Thitinan. "So now they will have added legitimacy - their legitimacy has been reinforced by the King's speech."

Mr. Surayud's cabinet has appeared to lose direction in recent weeks as it grapples with daily governance, and its efforts to confirm the alleged corruption of the former Thaksin administration.

Mr. Thaksin remains outside Thailand, traveling from his London home to China, Hong Kong and Indonesia on what he calls private shopping and golfing trips.

Thitinan says the king's speech has provided a window of opportunity for Mr. Surayud's government to "regain the momentum" on drafting a new constitution.

The coup leaders appointed former army chief, Mr. Surayud, to lead a cabinet largely of retired civil servants and private sector appointees to guide the country to fresh general elections scheduled for late 2007.